The Greatest Show on Earth
The first day of the two-month-long fair, dubbed as the 'greatest show on earth,' saw over 8 to 11 million people - gurus, saints, sages, devotees and pilgrims - taking the holy dip on first day of Maha Kumbh on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti at the Sangam - the confluence of the holy Ganges the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati river. The hourly count of bathers was around half a million pilgrims taking the holy bath, an act which is believed to cleanse one of all sins.
Important Bathing Dates for the Maha Kumbh Mela 2013:
- Starts on Makar Sankranti - January 14
- Paush Purnima - January 27
- Mauni Amavasya - February 10
- Vasant Panchami - February 15
- Ends on Maha Shivratri - March 10
The Origin of the Kumbh Mela Festivals
The tradition of collective worship gave rise to massive fairs such as the "Kumbh" which means "pitcher" (Sanskrit). Millions of people from around the world congregate at the confluence, also known as Prayag, to bathe in the icy waters of the holy rivers during this mammoth Hindu festival. The Kumbh, Ardha Kumbh, and Poorna Kumbh or Maha Kumbh are the titles given to the fairs held at in the Indian cities of Haridwar (Uttaranchal), Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) and Nashik (Maharashtra). The planetary positions of the Sun, the Moon and the Jupiter decide the place where Kumbh would be held. Read more about the various Kumbh Melas - Great Indian Bathing Festivals.
The Rush of Naked Ascetics
Day one of this year's Maha Kumbh was marked by the initial grand bath or the first auspicious Shahi Snan of the 13 'akharas' (religious orders) of Naga Sadhus - "a martial order of ascetics who move about either naked or scantily clad with matted hair and ash smeared bodies, marched to Sangam in processions with their leaders perched atop ornately decorated elephants, horses and chariots and musical bands in attendance in a unique blend of austerity and opulence," wrote the Times of India.
Unprecedented Facilities for a City Full of Pilgrims
A temporary township spreading across 20 million square meters divided into 14 sectors has been constructed for this huge fair. The local administration is also responsible for the availability of food grains and essential commodities besides managing the security, traffic, sanitation, electricity, drinking water, sewage and drainage, sanitation and health.
In order to protect the pilgrims from possible terrorist attacks, avert stampeded and regulate the rush of the pilgrims over 30,000 security personnel, including commandos of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and bomb disposal squads with sniffer dogs have been deployed around the Maha Kumbh Mela site. Despite all the arrangements, around 1,500 people including women and children were reported missing during the bathing on the first day in the fair.
The Indian government has set up 14 medical units, 22,000 street lights, 150 km of temporary roads, 18 bridges, and 35,000 toilets with sewers to cater to the demand of such a huge congregation. A number of special trains and around 7,000 buses have been put in motion to help people arrive at the venue from across the country.
The Indian trade body Associated Chambers of Commerce (ASSOCHAM) estimates that the Uttar Pradesh state government would amass a revenue of over USD 25 million from this massive influx of pilgrims, including over one million foreign tourists to Allahabad.